Nostalgia Is Not a Feature

On Thursday, Apple unveiled the latest MacBook Pro, with a fancy new multi-touch screen sitting above the keyboard in place of the function keys. And of course, instead of focusing on the exciting new features of the laptops, people are pointing out all the bad things.

I’m not saying you’re not allowed to be disappointed that this shiny new computer doesn’t have an SD card slot, or that the 15-inch model “only” has 16 GB of RAM. But people are saying that Apple doesn’t care about the Mac any more because they removed the startup chime.

That’s right, it’s apparently a huge deal that these Macs don’t make a loud “BOOOOONG” sound when you first turn them on.

Now, I am aware that the startup chime had a purpose, to signal that the startup diagnostics passed and the machine is fine to continue booting. But do we really need our computers to audibly tell us that every time we turn them on? There are other sounds a Mac can make at startup which indicate a fault; by removing the startup chime, it makes those fault sounds much more obvious.

I bet you never shut down your Mac other than restarting it for software updates and maybe to use Boot Camp. So you probably hear that chime incredibly rarely nowadays anyway.

So why the big fuss about the lack of a chime on these MacBook Pros? Nostalgia. Because that’s just how it’s always been, so changing it must immediately be a sign of doom.

On 512 Pixels, Stephen Hackett says:

However, the startup chime is ingrained into the experience of having a Mac, I’m sad to see it go. It’s tradition. It’s like losing the Happy Mac all over again.

Tradition. Part of the experience. These things may be true, but forgetting how loud your system volume was last time you shut down your computer and disturbing a quiet room with a BOOOOONG isn’t a good experience.

Paired with the fact that apparently these computers turn on as soon as you open the lid, even if they were shut down, I think this is actually a great feature. Clearly Apple is attempting to design these laptops to feel like they’re always ready to use in an instant. You don’t even need to care whether it’s in sleep mode or turned off. Just open the lid and your computer is there waiting for you. Isn’t that a great idea for the experience of using a Mac? Having a startup chime would break that illusion.

Keeping things around just because they’ve always been there isn’t how you design future generations of products. Just ask the headphone jack on your iPhone 7.

Nostalgia may be a nice feeling once in a while, but it is not a feature.